Snapshot : Marketing and e-Commerce use a lot of the same words, but often have different perspectives on how to manage brands and customers. This week we explore these two perspectives and share ways to help bring them together to deliver the same end result – happier customers and more sales.
With apologies to George Bernard Shaw, we believe “marketing and e-Commerce are two skills divided by a common language”.
For example, marketing and e-Commerce both talk about customer needs and wants, customer journeys and sales funnels. With this shared language, you’d think marketing and e-Commerce people would be a perfect match for each other. Like Ben and Jerry.
But the reality is when marketing and e-Commerce people work together, it’s often more like Tom and Jerry. They have different perspectives on how to grow the business, and this leads to disagreements and frustrations.
The main cause of these differences is that though both functions have the same end goal – more sales – they come from very different start points.
Our aim this week is to share ideas on how you can bring marketing and e-Commerce teams onto the same journey, so they work together more efficiently and effectively.
Start with customer needs and wants
Customer needs and wants are the basis for all marketing and e-Commerce activities. If you don’t know what customers need or want, or you can’t deliver products and services that meet needs or wants, your business will go nowhere.
But what marketing and e-Commerce people understand by needs and wants can vary greatly.
Before we explore that, let’s be clear on what needs AND wants mean for customers. Though the terms are often used interchangeably, they’re not quite the same thing.
Needs are an essential requirement. A “must-have”. An unsatisfied need has some sort of consequences for the customer. At the most basic level, air, food and safety are needs, but needs can also cover more psychological concepts like a sense of belonging or well-being.
Wants however are more desire driven. They are “wishes”. Unsatisfied wants may make the customer may feel bad, but there are usually less consequences. A want might be something like a foreign holiday, an expensive piece of jewellery or a fancy new car.
Internal needs and external wants
The storytelling book Save the Cat! Writes a Novel has an interesting additional way to distinguish between needs and wants. It describes needs as more internal, and wants as more external. Needs go deeper into areas like feelings and emotions, while wants focus more on desires and tangible “stuff”.
The book isn’t specifically about marketing and e-Commerce, but the needs / wants distinction helps in brand storytelling. In brand storytelling, customers are the heroes of your brand story. Those customers / heroes have needs and wants you need to understand to build your story. How their needs and wants come together helps you position your brand as the answer.
For example, a customer feels the need (internal) to not worry medical bills if they get sick. So, they want (external) a good health insurance policy.
Or a customer feels the need (internal) to boost their feelings of importance. So, they want (external) that expensive car to do that for them.
Here’s the thing though. Marketing and e-Commerce people often differ in whether they focus on needs or wants.
Future needs and immediate wants
Marketers naturally lean more to satisfying needs. E-Commerce people lean more towards satisfying wants.
Why is that?
Marketers aim to build long-term relationships with customers. Relationships are usually based on emotional connections by meeting their needs.
Brand-building adverts focus on making people happy (like many Christmas adverts, for example) or tapping into emotional connections with family and friends (like the Qantas advert in our article on advertising impact).
Sales results come over the long-term.
E-Commerce people on the other hand tap into short-term and immediate customer wants. This is more pragmatic and transactional. Their focus is less on relationships and more on instant gratification for the customer. There’s more focus on what people want (external stuff) right now.
Sales results come in the short-term.
The trick here is not to see these as opposing views, but as complementary views between marketing and e-Commerce. It’s really all about where the customer is in their journey.
Customer journey - e-Commerce and marketing
The e-Commerce journey or experience map comes from the broader topic of customer experience.
E-Commerce people use it as a way to track the different stages customers have to go though before they buy.
Once they buy, the journey map also helps you focus on how to keep the customer coming back from more through added customer service.
See the similarities?
The brand adoption funnel identifies key steps customers need to go through (driven by brand actions) to choose your brand.
It then focusses on how to make those customers become loyal repeat buyers.
The terminology might be different. The context might be slightly different. But it’s basically the same underlying process and steps that sits across both marketing and e-Commerce approaches to the customer journey.
Marketing and e-Commerce views of the customer journey
The marketing (brand choice funnel) model acts at a high level. It has deep questions.
Why should I listen, why should I care and so on?
Marketers love finding answers to why customers do what they do. The brand choice funnel helps them identify where in the customer journey to ask and answer those why questions.
The e-Commerce model has similar steps, but each step is more specific and action focussed. It’s more about how than why.
How do we get more shoppers? How do we get them to buy?
This action focus sets out much more specific channels and actions. It’s much less speculative and much more prescriptive. It covers the practical activities you need to attract customers, drive sales and manage transactions and deliveries.
It’s much more short-term and immediate gratification driven than the long-term relationship building view of the brand choice funnel.
In the e-Commerce world, functional benefits like price or speed of delivery to the customer are more important than emotional benefits.
Which approach is better?
Well, actually the most successful businesses work out how to make both approaches work together. As we said, it’s all about where the customer is on their journey. (see also our recent article on advertising short-term and long-term impact which explores the same concept for advertising).
A balanced, integrated approach between marketing and e-Commerce drives the best results for customers, because it focusses on both their needs and wants.
Marketing and e-Commerce can learn from each other
Part of the disconnect between marketing and e-Commerce is that they often sit as separate functions in a business. This means there’s not much interaction and sharing of skills.
Don’t let this happen in your business.
Cross-sharing of learning and skills between marketing and e-Commerce makes your teams better at both.
It moves people away from having a narrow business view to having a wide business view.
Wide business views help create more ideas, better integration and more inspiration for your teams. These all help your business and people grow.
E-Commerce people can learn from marketing’s focus on market research, marketing plans and brand activation, for example. They can learn the benefit of understanding customer emotional needs and long-term brand building.
Marketing people can learn from e-Commerce’s focus on the customer experience, and how to optimise key areas like store websites and the order to delivery process. They can learn how to be much more agile and act on short-term opportunities to make life better for customers right now.
How marketers who complain about e-Commerce get it wrong
We know marketers who complain e-Commerce has too much detail. It’s not “big picture” enough.
We know marketers who complain e-Commerce has too much detail. It’s not “big picture” enough. But these marketing strategists miss an important point. They get so hung up on strategy that they forget the whole point of marketing is to win more customers.
E-Commerce people rarely forget that it’s all about customers.
In the world of e-Commerce, “strategists” are not really a thing. Nobody cares when you’re trying to get orders out the door and clear your enquiry backlog.
That’s not to say you don’t need an e-Commerce strategy. You do.
Your strategy is how you intend to win customers based on your analysis of the external environment (customers, competitors and category) and your own internal capabilities.
That “how” is what makes or breaks your e-Commerce strategy.
That “how” is what makes or breaks your e-Commerce strategy.
It defines your goal and what you need to do to get there. Your business achieves its strategic goals by its actions with each and every customer.
E-commerce focus on transactions and systems is a good thing
Marketers often complain that e-Commerce is too transactional. But transactions equals sales. And it’s sales not strategy that pays the bills and ensures good financial health.
E-commerce people on the other hand love transactions. Transactions mean they’ve given customers what they want. Transactions means bills and salaries get paid. The value of the company grows. Stock isn’t sitting in the warehouse as a cost, it’s on its way to the customer. That’s money in the bank.
The more transactions through your order to delivery system, the more efficient the system becomes. Economies of scale drive better profitability.
E-Commerce people love to focus on how to improve transactions. Regular testing helps improve the customer experience and drives efficiencies.
Marketing, from a pure e-Commerce point of view, is a tactical activation to bring customers in at the start of their journey. Other functions like IT, finance and supply chain (as per our guide to the functions of e-Commerce) handles the other steps in this journey to create an efficient e-Commerce process.
Top of the Funnel (TOFU)
But if you think about the broader 4Ps of marketing, there’s more opportunities to adapt what you do, and drive higher levels of awareness and consideration with customers.
The 4Ps are a balanced view of how to prioritise your efforts in marketing. But most people spend about 70% of the time on “promotion” (especially advertising). “Product” might take up 20% of the time (mainly packaging or marketing innovation).
Poor old “price” and “place” get about 10% of the time, usually jammed into the annual marketing plan. In our experience, many marketers thinking on price and place go something like this …
Shall we do a price rise? What’s our promotional plan? Is it that time of year the sales team want me to go in and present our marketing plans to the retail buyer? Oh, you want an end-of-aisle dump bin do you? Can’t the category management team do all that? Sorry, can’t do that, I’m off to the agency.
Compare that to the time and thought that goes into most advertising campaigns.
Bottom of the Funnel (BOFU)
In e-Commerce though, the BOFU (or Bottom Of the FUnnel) takes priority. It’s where the sale itself actually happens. Price and place matter much more when the customer is ready to buy.
Success at the BOFU lives or dies on the quality of the order to delivery system.
When customers buy physical products online, a specific set of actions need to follow the purchase.
Payments goes from the customer’s card to your bank. Order details go to the warehouse to be picked, packed and dispatched. The order goes on a van, and moves through the distribution system to finally end up with delivery to the customer.
The key word here is system.
E-Commerce works as a series of efficient systems. Systems efficiency is rarely top of mind for marketing people. But it’s hugely important to e-Commerce success.
Marketing mix pricing opportunities in e-Commerce
Take price as part of the e-Commerce system, for example. With traditional retailers, there can be months of planning and negotiation to get the right regular and promotional price plan in place.
Once the price is set, it’s locked-in until the next slot in the retailer calendar comes up to change it.
Not a lot of flexibility there.
With e-Commerce, particularly if you run your own store, the opposite applies. Back-end e-Commerce systems mean you can adjust price easily and quickly as you need. You can even display different prices to different customers.
If you run your own online store, this gives you huge flexibility to test and adjust your price mix.
You can run flash sales at specific times of day, or specific days of the week. You can target price discounts to specific groups of customers based on what you know about them from your digital data.
This is different to the way marketers traditionally manage price. It means learning how to take advantage of the opportunity that pricing flexibility in e-Commerce brings.
Marketing mix place opportunities in e-Commerce
With fashion shopping for example, the imagery, layout and design of the website influence the sale.
But so do the other “place” elements, such as the returns policy and the efficiency of the last mile delivery.
“Place” as a 4P in e-Commerce marketing creates a lot of requirements. Web design. Payment systems. Digital data. Warehouses and delivery systems.
These are not areas traditional marketers know well.
At a push, they might have a view on the website design, but everything else needed to set up and run an e-Commerce operation demands new skills for marketers.
This is where marketing can really learn from e-Commerce. At each step of the customer journey, there are opportunities to connect with customers and meet their needs AND wants.
Marketing and e-Commerce need to work together.
Marketing and e-Commerce need to work together
Customers are notoriously fickle online.
It’s easy to compare different e-Commerce offers and switch between different online retailers and different online products.
This means marketing and e-Commerce need to work together.
They need to work together on the lay-out and content of their product pages.
They need to work together to update information in the product information management system.
In e-Commerce, you need to plan out each step of the customer journey – payment, order pick and pack, dispatch and delivery, returns and queries. If any one of those steps go wrong, the customer won’t be happy.
Managing these steps means pulling in expertise from finance, supply chain, IT and customer service. Marketers often don’t understand these areas of expertise. People in e-Commerce don’t have a choice. They have to understand them. Without them, e-Commerce simply doesn’t work.
Before this process planning though, you need to define the business goal. Marketing and e-Commerce should have the same overall business goal.
How do we find, convert and retain more customers?
What unites marketing and e-Commerce people is the question, how do we win more customers?
The answer is you “win” them by finding more customers at the TOFU (where marketing likes to play) and then converting and retaining customers at the BOFU (where e-Commerce likes to play).
The “win” comes from the right balance of long-term brand building and short-term sales activation.
It’s measured by the number of customers who choose you over competitors.
It’s measured by how much those customers spend and how often they come back to buy again.
E-Commerce is a notoriously competitive space. Customers have a lot of choice. Switching between offers is easy. The customer is in charge of where and when they buy.
To persuade these customers to choose you, you need both marketing-led brand building activity and e-Commerce-led efficient systems to manage orders.
Bringing marketing and e-Commerce people together in this way helps you win more customers.
That’s the end result you want, isn’t it?
Conclusion – Marketing and e-Commerce
We work across both marketing and e-Commerce. It’s how we recognise the similarities and differences.
But, it’s also how we know that bringing them together can supercharge your impact with customers.
Firstly, bring the two sides together. Highlight the similarities they share rather than the differences. Talk about customers and what they need and want.
Show how the two skills can work together to meet the overall business goal of satisfying customer needs and wants. Show how together, the two skills complement rather than contradict each other.
Because if they don’t, customers will be the first to notice. And then too late, you’ll notice it in dropping sales numbers.
Clearly, that’s not what you want.
When marketing and e-Commerce work together, customers are much happier. So is your bank balance.
Handshake : Cytonn Photography on Pexels